How Smoking and Vaping Influence Your Oral Health


Smoking, and more recently vaping, are not just social or recreational activities - both of these habits can have profound implications for both your health and your overall well being. And among the myriad health risks associated with these habits, oral health is significantly impacted, often leading to conditions collectively referred to as “smokers mouth”, encompassing gum disease, tooth loss, yellow teeth, bad breath, and even oral cancer.

In the following detailed exploration, we’re going to shed some light on the impact of tobacco and e-cigarettes on oral hygiene, offering guidance on how to protect your smile, adopt a healthy oral care routine, and finally kick the expensive habit. Let’s dive in!

Smoking and Oral Health

When you light up a cigarette, the smoke that swirls and fills your lungs is only part of the story. The other part, equally grim, plays out in your mouth. The chemicals in tobacco smoke have a direct and detrimental effect on oral health, leading to a range of issues from tooth discoloration and gum disease to more severe conditions like oral cancer.

If you're a smoker, you've likely been warned about these risks, but the visual and physical manifestation of “smokers' mouth” is more than enough to give anyone pause. This condition, marked by yellowed teeth, persistent bad breath, and an increased risk of gum disease, underscores the importance of oral hygiene for smokers.

Vaping and Oral Health

Vaping, often marketed as a safer alternative to smoking, has surged in popularity in recent years. However, when it comes to your oral health, the picture remains concerning: the aerosol from e-cigarettes, while not containing tobacco, is laden with other chemicals and particles that can potentially harm oral tissues and gums. Some research also suggests that vaping may lead to similar oral health issues as smoking, including gum inflammation, dry mouth, and an increased risk of tooth decay. The lack of long-term data means we're still uncovering the full extent of these risks, but the preliminary findings are enough to caution users.

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Common Oral Health Issues

Both smoking and vaping can contribute to a range of oral health problems, including periodontal diseases, which are infections of the structures around the teeth, including the gums and alveolar bone. While vaping still isn’t risk-free, traditional cigarette smokers are significantly more likely to develop periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease that can lead to tooth loss.

Additionally, the dry mouth caused by smoking - as well as vaping - can decrease saliva flow, which is essential for neutralising acids and cleaning away food particles, thereby increasing the risk of cavities and tooth decay.

Impact on Gums and Soft Tissues

One of the more immediate impacts of smoking and vaping is on the gums and soft tissues within the mouth. Smokers often experience a receding gum line, which not only affects the appearance of their smile but also exposes the roots of the teeth, making them more susceptible to decay and sensitive to hot and cold.

If I stop smoking will my gums repair?

The good news is that stopping smoking can lead to significant improvements in your oral and gum health, though some damage may be irreversible without professional dental intervention.

Oral Cancer Risk

While lung cancer awareness campaigns already educate us about the impact of smoking on the respiratory system, one of the other most severe risks associated with smoking and, potentially, with vaping is oral cancer: Tobacco use is a leading cause of oral cancer, which can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks, and throat, and early detection is critical for successful treatment. Plus, 90% of those with mouth cancer use some form of tobacco products, so if you’re a smoker or vaper, regular dental check-ups are an essential part of your oral health care routine.

Remember: If you’re worried about cancer, there are a number of health insurance options for individuals over 50 in the UK, with many providers offering comprehensive cancer coverage in the event of a diagnosis. 

Quit Smoking and Vaping: Embracing a Healthier Lifestyle

Smoking cigarette

For those concerned about their oral health due to smoking or vaping, there's a silver lining in the form of recovery and resilience: with the right care and a commitment to change, it's possible to mitigate some of the damage caused by these habits.

Quitting smoking or vaping is undeniably the most impactful step you can take to protect your oral health. While this may seem daunting or impossible after years of enjoying the habit, resources and support systems are available to help you navigate the journey. And once you decide to quit, your gums and soft tissues will have the opportunity to heal, and the risk of oral diseases significantly decreases over time.

Maintaining an Oral Hygiene Routine 

A robust oral hygiene routine is also your daily defence against the adverse effects of smoking and vaping, and should ideally involve brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, and using an antiseptic mouthwash to kill bacteria and freshen breath. 

And don’t forget about adequate hydration - this is also crucial for maintaining saliva flow, which helps protect teeth from decay and keeps your mouth healthy. Additionally, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and calcium can strengthen teeth and gums, providing an additional layer of defence against oral health issues.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, with a commitment to lifestyle changes, prioritisation of oral hygiene, and regular engagement with dental professionals, you can turn the clock back on tobacco-induced oral health problems. And if you're ready to take the next step towards healthier teeth and gums, remember that support and resources are available to guide you through the process.

Some of the leading UK health insurance providers also offer dental cover on their policies.

AXA will cover 80% of dentists’ fees up to £400 each year, and their core dental cover includes:

  • Routine examinations and treatments including hygiene, check ups and gum treatment
  • Repair treatment including fillings, crowns, bridges, and dentures
  • Mouth cancer cover
  • Hospital cash benefit
  • Choice of visiting any NHS or private dentist for accidents and emergencies

Vitality’s dental cover includes:

  • Up to £100 for dental check-ups and hygienist fees
  • 80% of the cost, up to £400 for dental treatment, e.g. fillings and crowns. 
  • 100% of costs up to £2,500 for emergency dental treatment following an accident (maximum of two claims per plan year)

Bupa dental cover includes:

Up to £150 per policy year for preventative dental treatment such as check-ups and scale and polish
Up to 75% of you restorative dental treatment costs up to £700 per policy year
Up to 20% discount on general dental treatment when you use a dental practice in the Bupa network

You can learn more about dental cover in our blog here

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